Ego Boost

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According to an Associated Press report, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California (Republican) has scheduled a special election on three issues: an initiative to "delay tenure for teachers to help districts weed out the poor ones," the redrawing of congressional districts and an "automatic cap on state spending."

Critics see this election as an $80 million confidence booster, especially since regularly scheduled elections are just over a year away. Giving the people more say in state policy, through referendums, is noble. But these issues lack the urgency that warrant a special election. Gov. Schwarzenegger should save the $80 million and attach these referendums to the regularly scheduled vote.

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  1. The issue of teacher tenure is a red herring. For every one failure of a teacher who can’t be let go because of tenure, there’s dozens who are failures because they’re not allowed to succeed; you’re supposed to focus on “self-esteem enhancement” and “diversity training” and “social issues” and “drug education” and pretty much everything except, you know, the actual subject you’re supposed to actually teach.

    And how did such failing teachers get tenure in the first place? Could it be that they were once briliant, inspired teachers whose souls were eventually corroded by the asinine bullshit demanded by their profession? This former teacher says ‘yes.’

  2. However, I agree with Schwarzenegger that gerrymandering IS a serious problem. What’s wrong with simple geometrically-shaped districts? I read somewherre, though I forget who said it, that whereas voters are supposed to choose their Congressmen, gerrymandering lets Congressmen choose their voters.

  3. Jennifer,

    With all the “diversity training” and “social issues” and “drug education”, isn’t the “self-esteem” a red herring too? It seems like what educators call self-esteem is really a euphemism for group cohesion.

  4. Spending caps seem like a good enough reason for a special election. The rest, well, as long as we’re having the election might as well vote on those as well.

  5. The self-esteem movement is the one of the biggest piles of crap around, Russ. The theory is this: the people who are failures in life, or the ones who are bullies or troublemakers, do so because of low self-esteem. But I would say the opposite is true. It wasn’t low self-esteem that made Hitler decide he was the Master of the Master Race; quite the opposite. It’s not low self-esteem that makes a bully feel he is God, so everybody better treat him accordingly or get punched.

    Or think of this: two kids of equal knowledge and intelligence are taking the SAT next month. One has high self-esteem and is convinced he’ll do fine, because he is who he is. The second one has low self-esteem, and is worried about how well she’ll perform. Which one is more likely to prepare for the test, and do well as a result?

    As for the individualism vs. groupthink mentality. . .honestly, I don’t know what to make of it. On the one hand, schools give the message that you, the student, are just fabulous the way you are, so there’s no need to change even the slightest ting about you, not even the fact that you’re an ignoramus; on the other hand, we need super-strong discipline because you’re all such wicked, wicked children.

    I think the answer is something I’ve said here many times before: to understand modern public ed, imagine the extremist right-wingers and extremist left-wingers got together and applied the worst aspects of their respective philosophies to the schools. So from the left, you have individualism taken to such extremes that self-esteem trumps all, and you can’t even give a kid a failing grade for fear of hurting his feelings; and then on the right you have the zero-tolerance and beauty of conformity philosophies.

    Two of my friends have little daughters, ones’s twenty-four and the other twenty-six months old, and I shudder to think of what will happen to those sweet little girls when they get sent through the public-school meat grinder.

  6. By the way, I see that I’m making more typos than usual, but for some reason, when I’m on my work computer, the text is much smaller than usual so I’m not seeing them. Maybe it has something to do with using a Macintosh. Anyway, please accept my apologies in a size-six font.

  7. Jennifer-

    To make web page font size bigger (at least on OS X) hold down ‘Apple-Shift-Equal Sign’.

  8. “It wasn’t low self-esteem that made Hitler decide he was the Master of the Master Race”

    That’s not actually true. Hitler was a semi-homeless loser with no real prospects when he fell under the sway of the “all Germans are masters” philosophy. People who respect themselves aren’t as prone to being taken in by cults that tell them how wonderful they are.

  9. Joe-
    Your comment assumes a direct correlation between self-esteem and achievement, or rather, it assumes that most people whothink highly of themselves do so because they deserve to. Not true; in fact, smart people are more likely to doubt themselves than stupid people, becaus the smart ones are smart enough to consider that they might in fact be wrong. Hitler’s problem was an inflated self-opinion combined with rage at the society that wouldn’t give him the fame and adulation he felt was his due.

  10. Font guy–
    Where’s the “OS” key?

  11. “What’s wrong with simple geometrically-shaped districts?”

    They tend to run a-foul of SCOTUS rulings on the one-man, one-vote principal which also typically hold that an electoral district should be based on common interests of its residents so as not to disenfranchise minorities. (I don’t completely agree with those rulings, but that’s what they are.)

  12. Well, SR, I’d say living in the same neighborhood would give you a common interest concerning how the neighborhood is run.

  13. John Stossel once reported that self-esteem among prisoners is higher than average.

  14. You orta be able to come up with an eforceable rule that states that all districts should have (i) the same number of people and (ii) the shortest possible boundaries, consistent with existing political subdivisions (that is, you should use city or town limits or county lines where possible).

    How hard is that?

  15. SR,

    The districts that have been struck down by the courts on those grounds have not been simple, geometrical districts whose boundaries follow established population “edges,” but were themselves gerrymandered districts. If a city with exactly the population of a Congressional district and a 99% white population was made, in its entirety, into a district, no court in the land would strike it down.

    thoreau,

    Nothing is wrong with simple, geometric districts. The question is, is it always wrong to have districts that don’t meet those criteria. Consider a situation in which three cities, and their burbs, are strung out along a coastline, at the foot of high mountains that form a barrier between the coastal district and the inland areas. A district drawn to consist of that region would appear to be a narrow, windy corridor. Yet the people there would have so much in common with each other, and so little in common with the occupants of the towns 50 miles away, across the mountains, that grouping them into a district makes perfect sense.

    Districts that follow river valleys and highways work the same way, as proximity to those features often carries with it shared economic, social, and environmental characteristics that make it reasonable to consider those communities as a coherent whole, even if the district boundries wind around and exclue other areas.

  16. Jennifer & joe,

    Isn’t this all so much armchair philosphizing? I sure don’t claim to know whether low-esteem drove Hitler or whether some sort of educational program addressing kids’ self-esteem could help them or not. We already have plenty of experts to disagree about all that! The problem with public education is that all this is decided by political agendas more than by self-interested consumers.

  17. The preference for contiguous, geometric districts stems from the archaid notion that people who live nearer to you will automatically have more in common with you than people who liver further away. But that just isn’t true anymore.

  18. Not surprised, Conundrum.

    I graduated high school in a super-racist Virginia town. The city proper didn’t even exist until 1954, when the desegregated-schools order came down and the good townfolk seceded from York County so their purebred troglodyte children wouldn’t have to go to school with “the coloreds,” and until 1975 the one bridge into town sported a sign saying “Nigger, don’t let the sun set on your black ass.”

    By the time I got there the town was turning into a prosperous bedroom community, but there was still an element of hardcore inbred white trash running about. And you didn’t find any of the white power guys living in the rich or middle-class neighborhoods; they were all in the part of town where people were not just poor but permanently poor–the folks who couldn’t get a job because they dropped out of school or couldn’t hold a job because they kept getting drunk and starting fights. And yet these trashy verminous people were convinced that they were the ultimate pinnacle of evolution (or would have if they believed in Darwin, anyway).

  19. Fyoor-
    I can prove right now that educational programs emphasizing self-esteem are a failure: test scores and literacy levels have gone down since the whole self-esteem movement got started. And there have been tons of studies to show that these same kids who can’t spell and can’t read and can’t add nonetheless tell pollsters that they expect to do “very well” on their upcoming spelling, reading or math tests.

  20. That was supposed to be “Fyodor.” I think some of keyboard keys are getting stuck.

  21. joe-

    I haven’t commented on district boundaries yet in this thread, so I’m not sure why you addressed your comments to me.

    I’m actually not a big fan of single-member districts at all. I would prefer elections from multi-member districts so that the various interest groups in the district can achieve representation proportional to their support, regardless of how the precise lines are drawn.

    Of course, that idea is a non-starter. So as long as we’re stuck with single-member districts, my only request is that they not be gerrymandered in a way that guarantees the election won’t be competitive.

    I’m on a mailing list that discusses election algorithms (hey, it combines math and politics) and a lot of discussion has gone on about district boundaries. I’m sympathetic to drawing district boundaries that show some respect for city boundaries, natural geographic boundaries, etc. There are all sorts of algorithms that can achieve those goals. However, even if you explicitly specify your goals it’s still hard to get “the best possible” district map because there are so many different ways the map could be drawn, and it’s almost impossible to check all of them. The best proposal I’ve heard is to specify the criteria (which may include adherence to pre-determined natural boundaries when possible), let anybody who wants to submit a proposed map, and then pick whichever map scores highest by the combined criteria (with the relative weights and scoring criteria spelled out in advance).

  22. joe: The absurd opposite is to have discontinuous districts of voters who cast identical ballots.

  23. So from the left, you have individualism taken to such extremes that self-esteem trumps all, and you can’t even give a kid a failing grade for fear of hurting his feelings; and then on the right you have the zero-tolerance and beauty of conformity philosophies.

    Jennifer,

    This is the only part I disagree with. The results are the same, only the methods are different.

    High self-esteem is basically defining your worth and respect from within, while low self-esteem is defining your worth and respect from without. In your example, kids aren’t given failing grades for fear of hurting their “self-esteem” but the more apporpriate term is “social promotion” – basically confirming the notion that the person’s worth and respect are defined from without.

    The left (as you call them) supports social promotion because it values social cohesion over building specific skills. The right views failure to build specific skills as a form of disobedience and ergo a threat to social cohesion.

    I don’t think what you and joe are saying about Hitler are opposites. Many high achievers are driven by a need for approval rather than the desire to achieve.

  24. Oops, thoreau, I was answering Jennifer’s question. My bad.

  25. Russ D-
    But what is the difference between “defining self-respect from within” and “having delusions of grandeur?”

    I’ll grant that almost everybody deserves a certain base level of respect based upon their status as a human being. And there are cases where one deserves a high self-opinion despite the majority opinion–being the one person willing to stick up for the Jews in Nazi Germany, say. But as a teacher, I was supposed to foster high self-opinions in kids who had no reason to have a high self-opinion–they were ignorant, they had poor social skills (I’m thinking specifically here of the kid who would pick his nose in public, and when I pulled him aside and privately told him he shouldn’t do that, I got a talking-to from an administrator for hurting the kid’s feelings), they had no abilities at all–about the best thing that could be said for these kids was that they never lied to get the country into war.

    There’s nothing wrong with honest pride in achievement, but the modern self-esteem movement abhors such things; you don’t feel good about yourself because of what you’ve done, you’re supposed to feel good about yourself simply because you exist. And that’s bullshit. Self-esteem is a by-product of achievement, not an achievement in and of itself.

  26. I’m thinking specifically here of the kid who would pick his nose in public, and when I pulled him aside and privately told him he shouldn’t do that, I got a talking-to from an administrator for hurting the kid’s feelings

    You?ve got to be kidding! Unless you were making fun of the kid, you were doing him a huge favor. God forbid you teach him lessons more valuable than the symbolism in Death of a Salesman

  27. Mo-
    Not kidding. And I wasn’t making fun of the kid; I tiptoed around the subject for awhile before I eased into it, talking about how society has taboos which say you shouldn’t do a certain thing even though it’s completely harmless, blah blah blah.

  28. Joe,

    Almost everyone would agree that watersheds or highways can make as much sense as the backbone for a political district as city/county/school district borders, but California’s are not drawn on that basis. They were drawn strictly to protect incumbents (of both parties).

    Or, in the occasional case, they are drawn to screw someone. My California Senate district way up north was redrawn at the last minute in 2001 to include Grass Valley so then-Assemblyman Sam Aanestad could run against the local assemblyman, who’d bucked the Republicans on a budget vote, for the Senate seat.

    Should the party of have shived my guy for voting for a tax increase? Sure, why not. But it just illustrates how redrawing the districts, especially given the fine detail of GIS software and political databases, has become a naked tool of politics.

  29. Let’s save another $120 mill and table the regularly scheduled election, too. That alone will put $4 back in the pocket of every man, women, and child in California.

  30. I don’t want to be too hard on Reason’s new guy, but there’s a lot more to this. If you’re going to write about California politics, read Dan Walters and Dan Weintraub from the SacBee. Here are some of the things you’ll learn:

    The only important reform here is the redistricting. Arnold just threw the other issues in there because they poll well. But the redistricting reform is Arnold’s legacy.

    Arnold already backed down on the 4th part of the agenda: moving state workers to fixed-contribution, 401-k-type pensions, instead of defined-benefit plans. (Did you know that according to the pension formula, state employees can actually make more than 100% of their last salary? Dude!) The unions cried about it, and Arnold backed down. Bascially, the Terminator is afriad of a bunch of nurses and schoolteachers teachers. What a girly-man.

  31. Got distracted there. My point is, these issues have a lot of urgency. Our state government is almost completely broken. The Legislature refuses to control spending. And, worst of all, they have no chance of losing their seats with the bipartisan gerrymandering we’ve got. Fixing those problems would definitely be worth an $80 million election.

  32. joe,

    You make some good points about the philosophy of drawing district boundaries, political affinity, and so on. But that’s not the debate in California. It’s not right-wingers arguing for one method of drawing district, and liberals arguing for a different, also logical method. The districts today are drawn only for partisan advantage — republican legislators get heavily republican districts, and democratic legislators get heavily democratic districts. There’s no principled defense of this system. That’s why the legislature doesn’t say that redistricting is wrong, just that we should wait a few more years to do it — til they’re termed out.

  33. Steve, trotsky, I don’t know the details in Kuhliforniuh one way or the other.

    I think one reform that could significantly reduce gerrymandering is to amend state constitutions to allow incumbents to remain in, and run for, office even if their residence is put into another district. This will avoid the districts you sometimes see that consist of a compact, coherent shape, with a long narrow tail stretching to the beloved Congressman’s town of residence.

  34. Jennifer,

    I’m not sure if your question is rhetorical.

    But I think your anecdote is indicative of the problem – educrats think self-esteem can be fostered with fake empathy and that all criticism is unempathic.

  35. Jennifer wrote

    Self-esteem is a by-product of achievement, not an achievement in and of itself.

    I completely agree with that statement. Self-esteem, ergo confidence, is built by meeting challenges that are slighty harder than you think you current ability is and overcoming them through hard work and preserverance.

    Of course this will involve failure in any number of circumstances, but the successes will hopefully outweigh the failures in those that think introspectively and improve.

  36. I thing holding a special election is a good idea. Although it may better to save some of these issues for the general election, obviously Schwarzenegger feels strongly enough about these issues to hold a special election. I think he is doing this because he wants people to actually pay attention to these issues. It seems to me most people who vote get so wrapped up in following candidates for offices, they rarely pay attention to the propositions until they actually get to the ballot box (with exceptions being highly controversial propositions). And many of those people don’t even bother voting on them.

    I think Arnold wants people to pay attention to these issues that would normally get glossed over in a general election.

  37. Special elections tend bring out folks who have strong opinions on issues vs. general elections that bring out folks who only vote in gubernatorial and presidential elections. In my experience (no data to back this up) general election only folks tend to vote for a personality and then follow that personality’s party line.

    This would seem to favor Arnold’s redistricting plan in a special election where no matter how much is spent by imcumbents to protect their districts (scare story advertising), the average voter is too ignorant of the issue and will not go to the polls without a personality to vote for or against.

    Unfortunately, in Kalifornia, we have more personalities to vote against than to vote for.

  38. Not that I want to see more politicians running around, but it seems to me that it just might be that Congressional districts at this point are too big for the sort of representation that was originally intended. We’ve had the same number of 400+ Congressmen (I’m guessing) since Alaska and Hawaii joined the Union, but over time those districts have doubled or tripled in size, population-wise. So my vote is now only worth about a half or a third of what it was 50 years ago.

    Some kind of rip off going on here.

  39. Douglas, I’ve been saying for years that it was a mistake to let women vote, and now you’ve just touched on one more reason why women shouldn’t be allowed to vote: The value of your vote would be doubled if women had to stay home and cook on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

    Most of them vote Democrat anyway, so they already hate America. If we take away their votes they’ll still hate America, so nothing will change.

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